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Episode 46: Elise Witt - All Singing
Episode 466th April 2022 • Change the Story / Change the World • Bill Cleveland
00:00:00 00:56:17

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Elise was born in Switzerland, raised in North Carolina, and since 1977 has made her home in Atlanta. She speaks fluent Italian, French, German, Spanish, and English and sings in over a dozen languages. Her passion for music and languages has led her to take her Global, Local & Homemade Songs™ across the United States and around the globe.

Among her ancestors, Elise claims “Wedding March” composer Felix Mendelssohn and his grandfather, Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn; Protestant cow farmers from northern Germany; Russian chemists; Polish intellectuals; French Bordeaux wine growers; a British painter; and a great great aunt from Cuba. 

Elise has served as a cultural ambassador to South Africa, Nicaragua, China, Italy, and Yugoslavia. For the Kennedy Center’s 25th Anniversary Celebration, Elise represented the State of Georgia, and she has crisscrossed the United States with her Global, Local & Homemade Songs™ – from New York’s Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the People’s Voice Café to festivals like Clearwater’s Hudson River Revival, Falcon Ridge, LEAF, the North Georgia Folk Festival, and the Marin County Fair in California; from Minneapolis’ Gingko Coffeehouse to Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe; and from the Open Door Community to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change.

Elise’s original songs are wildly eclectic. The Raleigh Times says, “Her performance is like a suitcase plastered with stickers from around the world… populated with interesting characters both heroic and comic.” VALISE is Elise’s 11th recording on the EMWorld label. Her songs have been used in several documentary films, and include the anthem Open the Window (inspired by a Georgia Sea Islands Spiritual), Why Are Our Eyes in the Front of Our Heads? (acapella jazz vocal ); Clothes Swap (a funky ode to the virtues of re-cycling and girl gatherings); Set Us Free (inspired by the words of Reverend Timothy MacDonald at Martin Luther King Jr.’s 80th birthday celebration at the National Historic Site in Atlanta), Venus Between Us (a tribute to Soul Music), Ma Roulotte (a french gypsy jazz waltz, co-written with partner Mick Kinney), Butterfly’s Mysteries (a scientific boogie, written at the Callaway Gardens Butterfly House), Verkehrte Welt (Crazy Mixed Up World, a German paradox poem à la Oh Suzanna), and Blessed Nation (original music by Elise Witt to a poem by Pete Seeger).The Elise Witt Choral Series makes Elise’s songs available for choirs, choruses, and vocal ensembles. With arrangements by Michael Holmes, there are currently 20 songs arranged for SATB, SSAA, and TTBB groups. Elise has collaborated with choirs, choruses, and vocal ensembles as composer, conductor, and clinician. Her choral arrangements have been performed by Echoes of Peace Choir in Duluth MN, WomanSong in Asheville NC, Clear Rivers Chorus in Carrolton GA, Resonance Women’s Chorus of Boulder CO, Winston Knoll College in Saskatchewan Canada, Charm City Labor Chorus in Baltimore, and many other choruses, schools, and churches around the country.

Notable Mentions

Elise Witt: Global, Local and Homemade Songs

ALL SINGING: The Elise Witt Songbook is a collection of 58 original songs for solo and community singing. It includes lyrics and chords, as well as music notation, plus photos, graphics, and lots of stories

Daily Antidote of Song: Is an internet broadcast program that presents song leaders from around the world sharing songs with the intention of “Making each day better, one song at a time!”

Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections at The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage is home to the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, a public resource named for the founding director of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Folk Alliance International: FAI is an arts nonprofit founding in 1989 to connect folk music leaders aiming to sustain the community and genre worldwide.      

Jenny Jenkins: In the United States, Jennie Jenkins was sung as a way for a boy to ask a girl to dance. The boy would sing the first part and pick a color and the girl would have to make up an answer that rhymed. If the girl failed to quickly respond with an appropriate answer, she would be required to dance with the boy.

John Robert Lewis (February 21, 1940 – July 17, 2020) was an American politician and civil rights activist who served in the United States House of Representatives for Georgia's 5th congressional district from 1987 until his death in 2020. He was the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1963 to 1966. Lewis was one of the "Big Six" leaders of groups who organized the 1963 March on Washington.

Alternate Roots: Alternate ROOTS supports the creation and presentation of original art that is rooted in community, place, tradition or spirit. We are a group of artists and cultural organizers based in the South creating a better world together. As Alternate ROOTS, we call for social and economic justice and are working to dismantle all forms of oppression – everywhere.

Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences: The Hambidge Center provides a residency program that empowers talented individuals to explore, develop, and express their creative voices. Situated on 600 acres in the mountains of north Georgia, Hambidge is a sanctuary of time and space that inspires individuals working in a broad range of disciplines to create works of the highest caliber. 

The Small Family Orchestra; Elise “back in the day” with her sister Mary, her brother-in-law Rick Ruggles, her bro-in-law's best friend from childhood Steve Harris, and her sister's husband's friend's neighbor Beth Heidelberg. SFO featured intricate 5-part vocal harmonies accompanied by an intriguing and inventive combination of instruments – French Horn, cello, mandola, saxophone, fiddle, clarinet, bass clarinet, and guitar.

Sandinista Revolution: The Nicaraguan Revolution (Spanish: Revolución Nicaragüense or Revolución Popular Sandinista) encompassed the rising opposition to the Somoza dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s, the campaign led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) to oust the dictatorship in 1978–79, the subsequent efforts of the FSLN to govern Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990,[24] and the Contra War, which was waged between the FSLN-led government of Nicaragua and the United States–backed Contras from 1981 to 1990.

Ngapartji Ngapartji: Ngapartji Ngapartji was a community development and Indigenous language maintenance/revitalisation project produced by the Australian arts and social change company Big hART conducted in various locations across the AnanguPitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in Central Australia and in Alice Springs.[1]

Global Village Project: The seeds of Global Village Project were planted in 2007 by a group of volunteers who came together to support and tutor five teenaged Afghani girls in Clarkston, Georgia. By 2009, they’d founded Global Village Project, the only school in the country dedicated to meeting the educational needs of refugee young women and preparing them for high school.

Sweet Honey in the Rock is an internationally renowned Grammy Award® nominated female a cappella vocal quartet has a history of over four decades of distinguished service. They have created positive, loving, and socially conscious message music that matters as it pertains to spiritual fortification, and consistently taken an activist stance toward making this planet a better place for all in which to live. 

Ysaye Maria Barnwell: Dr. Barnwell joined Sweet Honey In The Rock® in 1979 and her training as a Sing Language Interpreter, led her to facilitated the group’s tradition of including a Sign Language Interpreter in the ensemble. After 34 years Barnwell retired from Sweet Honey In The Rock to pursue her other interests.

Dr. Barnwell appears as a vocalist and/or instrumentalist on more than thirty recordings with Sweet Honey In The Rock as well as other artists. She has, for the past thirty years spent much of her time off stage working as a master teacher and choral clinician in African American cultural performance. Her workshop “Building a Vocal Community®: Singing in the African American Tradition” has during the past twenty-eight years, been conducted on three continents, making her work in the field a significant source of inspiration for both singers and non-singers, a model of pedagogy for educators, and cultural activists and historians.  

Ella’s Song: In 1981, Bernice Johnson Reagon, founder of the all-women's a capella group Sweet Honey in the Rock and a civil rights leader and activist in her own right, wrote “Ella's Song” as part of the musical score she composed for the film Fundi: The Story of Ella Baker.

Kathy deNobriga: A founding member of Alternate ROOTS, a service organization for community-based artists in the South, deNobriga served as ROOTS' executive director and planning/development director for ten years. A current board member of Alternate ROOTS, deNobriga is a certified mediator in the State of Georgia, and after three terms as Council member deNobriga now serves as Mayor for the City of Pine Lake.

Rev. Timothy McDonald, III is founder of the African American Ministers Leadership Council and President of the African American Ministers In Action of People for the American Way, and is Senior Pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, where he has served since 1984. Rev. McDonald has taken First Iconium from 35 members to approximately 1500 members. He served three terms as President of Concerned Black Clergy of Atlanta, an ecumenical consortium of Black and White clergy and laypersons working on behalf of the poor.

The King Center (Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change): Established in 1968 by Mrs. Coretta Scott King, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (“The King Center”) has been a global destination, resource center and community institution for over a quarter century.The King Center is a 501(c)3. Nearly a million people each year make pilgrimage to the National Historic Site to learn, be inspired and pay their respects to Dr. King’s legacy.

Open Door Community: The Reverend Murphy Davis, who founded the Open Door Community with her husband Ed Loring, inspired a new kind of protest against Atlanta’s neglect of the poor. 


Elise Witt

Bill Cleveland: Hey there songsters and harmonizers, this is Lester Bye Bye Bateau coming to you all the way from My Salsa Garden on the Highway to Nowhere via the All Singing all songs. Amoeba network on the big 99.7 on your dial an Unlikely (musical) Affair, Celebrate Joy, and Simplicity, and we all listen and learn as the musical Bees Make Honey and that Glorious Chorus across our Blessed Nation when each night we Break the Silence. So, come on everybody it's Mimosa Time, Open the Window and Dance with Me.

Well, that was fun. My guess is that you've already guessed that our guest on this episode of Change the Story / Change the World has something to do with music, and it's true. The voice you have been hearing behind me, the singer songwriter, musical force of nature. Elise Witt yes. That's W I T T has a lot to do, and a lot to say, about singing and songs and songwriting for sure, but also mother nature, human nature, the state of the world, and a hundred other subjects --- odd, wonderful, quirky, and profound.

Elise is a world citizen. multi-lingual, a teacher, a song leader, a community activist, and the loving soul. She's been making music all her life across the globe to make a better world. Along the way she's scooped up a guitar case, full of wisdom and a lot of stories. So take a listen.

This is Change the Story / Change the World. My name is Bill Cleveland.

Part One: A Daily Antidote of Song


[00:02:13] Elise Witt: I am on the original lands of the Creek and Muskogee here in Pine Lake Georgia where I have a small farm honoring the farm that I grew up on in North Carolina, where we had, goats that we milked and chickens whose eggs we ate. And then we had some rather unusual animals as well, including guanacos , which are related to llamas and emus, and rheas, which are related to ostriches.


And Elise I know Pine Lake, it's outside of Atlanta, right? Out in the country? What a wonderful place to be, spending your time. So, is Kathy DeNobriga One of your neighbors


BC: Yes. I know. I contributed to her campaign.

EW: Yes. It's a very interesting community. I did move here because of the lake because I am a fanatic swimmer.


So, let me begin just by, asking, in whatever way you would like to just discuss. Your work in the world.


And so, they decided to have a song leader come on, and this is all on zoom, a song leader, come on every day at noon teach a song. something that sing along-able. And then, there would be some conversation about the song leaders work, whatever that might be, that they want to talk about. And then, they sing the song again at the end, so that everybody leaves singing and, it has now gone beyond 500 days -- I think it's like getting close to 600 days. And I got involved with it near the beginning, through the Smithsonian Folk Life Archives, because the Archive has a wonderful thing called the archive challenge, where anybody can go on the archives and learn about the songs there. And if there's a song that speaks to them, you create your own version of that song and then it's archived there.

And several years ago, I was at the Folk Alliance, international conference and they had an archive challenge there. And I chose the song, Jenny Jenkins, which is a color song, like a traditional color song. And, it’s actually a chording song. And if you listen to the versions in the archive, You'll hear there's a, like a tongue twister, chorus, and all the versions are different--the tongue-twistery part. But the one that I liked the most said, Make me a foldy roldy, tildy toldy, mildy moldy, pick a double. And then I added, make good trouble in honor, of course, our, congressmen from here in Georgia, John Lewis. And, in the traditional version, Jenny is very grumpy. She doesn't like any of the color. She's oh, I'm not going to wear red because it goes to my head. I won't wear blue, whatever, et cetera. And I decided no, “Jenny lighten up.” So, my Jenny, she loved all the colors and she tells about why she loves them. So, there's a rhyme for each of the colors.

And we did this, right around the time of the Georgia election for our two Senate seats. That was an important election and, RBG figures, prominently in the song as well. But my collaborator, Jessica Lily, who does all my website and technical things, and who's also a wonderful artist and musician, she said, “What about if we make this into a video project where we invite artists from around the world of all ages who contribute art, to illustrate the different verses.” And so, we created this, this beautiful music video of the Jenny Jenkins song, which premiered on the Daily Antidote and a lot of people literally, ages one to 83, all different art forms, participated in it. I started being more and more engaged in the Daily Antidote of Song.

I've led a lot of my own songs there and I've also had, I had the idea to host a week of, Alternate Roots artists, musicians. And then recently, I've hosted a week of, global voices. 'So I had, singers from India (Shruti Vishwanath) and Gitu (Gitanjali Jain) from Mexico and, Behomar Rojas, from Venezuela and, Marilena Anzini from Italy”a lot of different voices, also from Ethiopia.

And so, as I've gotten more and more, involved in this community, and there are people coming in every day. And so, one of the beautiful things about it is not only does it share the music, but every day, every person that's there is greeted. So, when I'm the host, I will sing, welcome Bill we're here on the Daily Antidote of Song.

So I just --- where we welcome each person. And as, as I'm there more and more, I know the people and I know where they are, there's people coming in from England, just all the different states. And so it's been an amazing connection for me. And recently, Joe Razi, who is the, the mastermind of the whole project.

She said to me, we need another Jenny Jenkins year too. So, started thinking like, okay, what is it that made Jenny Jenkins work? Number one, it's a list song. Number two, it has colors. the list is colors and that's what inspires, the art. And then also I loved the tongue twister chorus. So, I was thinking like, what could it be?

And is it shapes sizes, whatever, none of that seemed to work. But I was talking to my friends who were also Alternate Roots, folks that you might know, Carol Birch Brown and Ann Kilkelly at Blacksburg is a wonderful artist that I've worked with a lot. And she said, what about the idea of a suitcase?

And so I thought, yeah, that's it. And I thought about that. A suitcase has both the idea of the whimsical Mary Poppins suitcase, where you can pull out like any, anything of any size, that can come with can be packed in there. And then I also thought about the suitcase that you have to pack in a hurry when you have to leave. The refugee’s journey, the forced migration that suitcase. And I got really inspired and I wrote a new song it's called Ready or Not. And, and actually I'm premiering it tomorrow on the daily antidote and I'm inviting folks, to submit art for it. And, yeah, we're getting ready to do it. You want to hear it?


EW: let me just open my guitar case here.


[00:10:29] EW: You'll hear just me with guitar, but on, when I do a better recording of it, my partner, Mick Kenny, will be playing the accordion, which sounds really lovely on it.


[00:10:43] EW: The daily antidote airs every day at noon Eastern time. So, in California, 9:00 AM and 6:00 PM over in Europe and Africa, different. Yes, it's a wonderful community.


[00:10:58] EW: All right.

Ready or not, time for my journey to begin,

where will it take me? That's up to the wind

Will you help me pack for my journey?

What can I take

Put it inside my magic suitcase

No time to waste

Buya do crya do whya do do

Buya do crya do whya do do

I’ll take my favorite teacup

that will help me wake up

I’ll take my rainbow hula hoop

That will help me stay in the loop

I’ll take along my special red velvet vest

That's how I want you to remember me best

I’ll take along most sturdy boots.

They can help me feel my roots

Buya do crya do whya do do

Buya do crya do whya do do

I'll take a magic potion

just in case I take a notion

I’ll take along on my very largest cooking pot.

So, I can share what I’ve got

I’ll take along the crazy thoughts in my brain.

Like where are the birds?

When it starts to rain

I’ll take along a very long jump rope

will help me keep up my hope

Buya do crya do whya do do

Buya do crya do whya do do

I’ll take along my favorite picture of you

That look in your eyes will help see me through.

I’ll take along that photo of us

That was the moment I learned to trust

I’ll take along my favorite song

Cause with it I can never go wrong

I’ll take along my mother's wedding ring

And I’ll remember how she love to sing

Oh, Buya do crya do whya do do

Buya do crya do whya do do

I’ll take along my heartbeat

To feel pulse from my head to my feet,

I’ll take along the path to our home

That how I know we are never alone

To take along the wind on my face

To remember your embrace

I’ll take along some time to rest

That’s how I how I am blessed

Oh, Buya do crya do whya do do

Buya do crya do whya do do

Ready or not, time for my journey to begin,

where will it take me? That's up to the wind

Ready or not time to leave

What comes next, it’s time to breathe


[00:15:36] EW: Thank you so much. And I think that's why I want to do the art project with it because it's more than an audio experience. I've only played it for a few people so far. and all of them said how, like what you're saying about how the images that it brought up for them. And a couple of my friends actually said, “I'm already thinking about the image that I'm going to create, the artwork that I create with it”

BC: Yeah. that's an interesting thing about, I don't know, maybe this is the wrong term to use, but engaging with art is really an infectious thing when it touches the heart and the head at the same time, you cannot help, but trigger the imagination on, on a journey. And, being a singer and a songwriter, what, what a privileged thing to be in a. and the world that we live in.


Part Two: The Evolution of Ideas.


[00:17:59] EW: Well, musically, one of the funny things about that song is that it's actually, it's a round, so it evolves as it's sung. So even as an idea is evolving, the music is also evolving by engaging, more and more people it's actually an eight-part round. And yeah, I was just ruminating on how an idea can be born, in so many different ways. Sometimes it feel like you have to grab onto them.


When an idea comes, because if you don't, it's gone. there's so many, ideas, so many influences floating around in my dreams or in my thoughts. I am not the kind of, songwriter who says every morning from eight to 10, I'm going to work on my writing. and I very much admire that kind of, that kind of discipline. It's just, it's not my discipline. Actually, most of the songs I've written or at least developed happened, at the Hambidge Center, which is an artist retreat center here in Georgia.


[00:19:06] EW: The Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences.

I have a hard time finding that kind of space in time. when I'm at home, I think that I have so many different projects going and I'm teaching and so many different things are happening that finding that time to settle and let the ideas evolve. ˆt's very difficult for me to do at home and I have to be out in my garden. There's so much to do in my garden, but to have the time and space to, let an idea evolve. and I love that evolution, if you put an R in front of it, it becomes circular, a revolution


[00:19:53] EW: As you probably know, I have another song, called spiral. Which talks about how, a revolution is just a circle. It comes back to where it started. And so what's really revolutionary, and I'm making a little air quotes here, is the idea of spiraling that we actually move away from again and move forward, or we move backward or we move, in time we move some kind of way that moves us into a new place, rather than just… If you look at social revolutions, political revolutions, most of them, have come back around to where they started and have not gotten anywhere. so many, sadl.


[00:21:04] BC: Yeah. That. Great revolutionary hero. Danielle Ortega has become. Uh, another Somoza.


BC: So, you spoke about re relationship collaboration, cooperation, evolution and revolution. one of the through lines in your work at least recently has been your relationship to this amazing organization called the global.

EW: Yeah, the global village project.


[00:22:35] EW: Yes. I many, many years, um, as a, um, what I think was used to be called a visiting artist and then became a teaching artist and I traveled all around and I would split. Three weeks or a few months in small communities, I'm usually hosted by a school there, but then I would also, and I would get the kids excited about music from, um, many cultures and then write songs with them. And I would also go and sing with the garden club or the Rotary Club or different organizations, in the town. And I loved that work very much because it centered around my love of language and my love of, of teaching and learning. But the thing, I think that was difficult, was that I would have this intense experience with a group of people and then it would be finished. I would leave and then there would be another one. And it always was very engaged and very wonderful, but it would always have an ending.

Twelve years ago, I learned about, this school It was then called the Global Village School, but it's now called the Global Village Project. And a good friend of mine, wanted to do a singing circle there. And she asked me if I wanted to come along with her to lead the singing circle, and I did. And, this was,a school that had just started, inspired by an elementary school called, The, International Community School. And The International Community School is a K-five school that has half refugee kids and half local. And I was an artist in residence there for several years. Anyway. some of the folks from that school started a Saturday school for parents and for older siblings and in doing so they realized the great need for the teenage refugee girls, the older sisters of the students.

So they started the school, the Global Village Project. And it’s a special purpose middle school, especially for a teenage refugee girls with interrupted education. And so, the second year, my friend who had gotten me involved there, decided to go in other directions, but I really wanted to continue and develop a relationship with that school. And I actually raised my own salary for the first few years. I went to the local computer store and the owner happened to be there. And just across the counter, I said, would you like to support the music program at the Global Village Project down the street? And he said, yes. anyway, we were off and running and, I became the music teacher there, which is interesting because I've never, I've never been classroom music teacher, but of course I've done a lot of music teaching.

And I really embraced this idea of every student as a teacher, every teacher, as a student, and really what I do there is I use singing to teach English. So, we, learn different songs maybe from the global peace and justice repertoire, different songs, that I've written or that I, friends of mine have written.


[00:25:39] EW: One of the big things we do, is we write something ---and even when I was doing the artist in residency what I would ask was, “What is something that you find is difficult to it's difficult for the students to grasp.” And then let us write a song about that. Because kids write a song, they will never forget it. Just, this week, we actually culminated our first quarter of school. And in the first quarter of school, the theme is welcome. So, we're looking at everybody's, languages and cultures where they from. And because we've been gone, we've been on zoom for a year and a half.

We're having to really find each other again, as a community. In each of the classes, we wrote a community agreement song. They had written these community agreements with their English teachers. And so yesterday we had our, what we call the Authors Tea. Students are the authors, and they present information about the things that they've been studying.

So, in social studies they've been studying maps and they made a map. They made all these drafts of the… these are the, number of people that these languages, and these are the countries we come from, and the number of in our school, and those kinds of things. And in their English classes, they had been making these beautiful, big posters that basically say who they are. And, the heading is, I am Unique. And it's, where am I from? What languages do I speak? How many brothers and sisters do I have? What are my dreams for the future, those kinds of things. We presented all that yesterday.

Last year, one of the things I, with those posters, we wrote a song called, We Are All Unique, and I was asking girls, what is it that makes you unique? And just the idea of unique is so wonderful, I think, to talk about. But one of the girls said, unique because I know who I am. And it was, “Whoa.” So actually, the chorus of song goes:

We are unique because we know who we are.

Everyone's unique in their own special way.

We are all unique.

It would be like, “Bill is unique because he writes beautiful songs.” and then that was our most advanced, English, speakers.

We have three classes and they're organized by their English language ability, their age. the middle group wrote a song called My Favorite Things, which is not the famous one. but we talked about how, everybody has their own sport.


Literally when you see them like sounding out words and reading and, do you want hear their song?


[00:28:48] EW: You have to dance along with it. Okay?


[00:28:52] EW: So it's, let's see. oh my goodness. How does it start? I've still got ready or not in my mind. Hang on a second. Hang on one second. Okay, we're going to skip that. Sorry. I can't remember how it

BC: I can't tell you her comforting that is.


[00:29:07] BC: But no, but the thing is that, we have songs, we make songs, we forget songs. And I forget songs all the time and what you were just doing is trying to grab it back I'm just constantly doing that.


In this class,

We agree to be friendly.

I look with my eyes. I look with my eyes.

I listen with my ears. I listen with my ears.

I speak with my mouth. I speak with my mouth.

I am kind with my heart. I am kind with my heart.

Try to use English, try to use English,

no laughing at her sister. There's no laughing at our sisters.

Together we agree.

That's how it goes together agree. There it is.


EW: We're learning body parts,

BC: Yup. Yup.


BC: I think we forget is that, we need to practice the values we live and be reminded of them.


[00:31:18] BC: And the interesting thing is that it's also in their second language or their third or their fourth. I think it, it enters the heart and the mind in a different way. When it's number one through music and number two through music in a language that is not your mother tongue.

EW: And body, because we are, we're like we're showing with our bodies, what we're doing as well,


Once you learn that way, it becomes something you can use for the rest of your life. they may be learning the early days of English. but that's, that's a strategy you can apply to practically anything, which is wonderful.

Part three. Amoeba Songs, and love


[00:33:01] EW: have been on that bench.


[00:33:18] EW: Becky's beautiful song longing saying on your interview with her.


[00:33:24] EW: When I sing with her, I get to sing harmony on it.


No torture,

No war,

No meanness of spirit,

Only the song of life.

Can you hear it?

Which really resonated with me. That's really beautiful.

EW: I was thinking about how complicated, how complex we keep making things. And can we just pair down to the, to, to the single cell? another, a parallel concept I also think about is like the idea of getting, just getting rid of all of the layers of complexity that we've built up around ourselves over the many years of our lives. And what is That essence down, in, in the very core of our being.


EW: You're reminding me of… I've been a student for many years of Dr. Ysaye Maria Barnwell, who is a bass singer from Sweet Honey in the Rock. And one of the songs that she's taught for many years, comes from the, the rainforest in central Congo, land. And the thing about that, that song, if we can call it a song is that people are spread out, all through the forest. And when that song starts, you hear it coming from all different directions and people join in singing it and they gather, it brings people together to gather. And they sing and sing until community is reached. Not only is it the community of people, but they're actually singing the sounds of the rain forest.

Ama ibuo iye, Ama ibuo iye, Ama ibuo iye

But the song layers in. So it's like, Ama ibuo iye, Ama ibuo iye and it can just come into your hearing, the sounds of the rainforest, the sounds of the animals, the sounds of the water, dripping, the sounds of the growing, and they sing and sing until they feel like community is reached, that they're coming together and sometimes it takes time. and maybe we're being called together because there's a problem. There's disagreement. There's some sort of, disruption in the community. So, music, yeah. Music is such a powerful way. To come together and not have to have discussion and words and misunderstanding, but what if we sing together, and what if we made harmony?


[00:37:59] BC: Yeah. I spent a lot of time with groups of people teaching and learning. And one of the, I guess you call it rituals or traditions that I and my colleagues have brought is also another Sweet Honey in the Rock, piece that actually Kathy DeNobriga introduced to me, which is the chorus from Ella’s Song. We who believe in freedom cannot rest. And one of our practices, because it's easy to remember, once people get into, is to go long enough so people, move from being self-conscious to not even thinking about what they're doing.

And the other one is that once you get that melody in your head, people will start to wander into natural harmony. And, and then when you finish people go, “Where did that come from?” And that's what you're talking about. This is something that I think, rises up from, the evolution of our species. It's not some, thing that you just go to school to learn. It is right in there, in our brains, in our hearts and our minds. it's a beautiful thing.

EW: I think the idea of repetition to where we're no longer thinking about it, we're no longer in, you know, that conscious part and we, we become part of the music and we hear it and feel it and create it on a different wavelength than the mind that's always like planning and thinking.


and this one, it's a love. It's, it takes you from the natural world and and it's a beautiful thing and there's a story behind it too. could you just share briefly the story of where that song came from?


And I, then I was not going for a number of years because of touring with my band. And when I arrived back after being gone for 10 years, there was a party with my friends that was happening in the mountains, above the lake Lago majority. Just a big lake. One of the finger lakes in Northern Italy, and there were, four guys sitting on a stonewall outside of the house where the party was and they were singing the traditional men's choral mountain music of that place. And it was so powerful and so beautiful. And I had not heard it before and then a neighbor called and complained. And so, they went in the house and went upstairs and I just followed them up there.

And, then, they said, we're in a, we're in a men's chorus. It's a traditional thing here. men's choirs that sing this traditional mountain music. It's the alps, it's really, it's Italy, but it's close to Switzerland. And we meet every Thursday for rehearsal. You're welcome to come if you want. So, I was like, “Absolutely.” I'm there. So I went to their rehearsal, which was fantastic, I always love rehearsals more than performance.

But even better than the rehearsals was after the rehearsal, they go to this place called the circulo, which is a word for circle, which is something we don't have here in the states. But it's a, it's like a combination of. community center bar restaurant, a place where people gather, like a pub in Ireland anyway. And we're sitting at these long tables and then they're really singing in the circulo they were really singing.

And then, suddenly all this food started arriving and I'm like, “Nobody ordered or anything.” The guy next to me said, oh yeah, there's a special sign. I'm sorry, this is a, podcast and not a video, but you take your hand. and you just tap your ribs with the sides of your fingers. if you grab somebody's attention, like the waiter, they just start bringing food.

So that's how we met and got involved with each other. And then I was in a songwriting workshop. it was a brilliant workshop in which the teacher basically said nothing and taught us nothing. What he said was, “I want you to come back tomorrow, and I want you to think of a style of music that you admire, but you've never done. that you feel like you can't write in and, something that you never write about.”

And so, I came back the next day and I said, I never write love songs. And I said, I really admire how French and Italian and Spanish songs they're really the lyrics or poetry. They're not just, I love you. And so, the assignment was, “Write an Italian love song in English.” And I literally wrote all of the words that first night and then the rest of the week I worked on the music, but I never edited it. I never changed it. And like you said, it was an evolution.

The four verses are evolution--first it's about, the music and, at first, it's about the place, the beauty of the land, and then the beauty of the music, and then the connection that we feel together and then realizing, of coming together.

First, I fell in love with the land

Dark mountains on a June starlit night

Reflecting in the grand lake far below

First, I fell in love with the land

But I have literally probably written only three or maybe four love songs in my life. Cause there, I agree. There's so many of them. And what else can you say.

BC: But what you've written about is, I am in awe of a world that embraces me and it includes all these things, including you. And whoa, you can just feel it, happen, and at least for me, it reminded me of that feeling of just, being awestruck

Now I’m in Love with you

The lake, the song, our conversation

When there’s a fork in the road, we lean left

We howl at the moon

And when we’re struck into sudden silence

We know there’s something there

Something there that’s never been before

Something there that leaves us always wwanting more

Now I’m in love with you

EW: That person, the song is about has passed away.


[00:45:26] EW: Yeah, he had an untimely death, very sudden. And so, I'm glad that song exists in his honor and in honor of our relationship. Yeah. Thank you.

Part Four. All Singing.


[00:45:48] BC: yeah,


[00:46:10] BC: You never know what pops up. I think one of the wonderful things about going through someone's garden of songs is that it's not curated. It's just what shows up in your brain at a particular time. And this one, and maybe this is predictable, you had a big concert for your song book. Called All Singing.

And I believe it was what the final song in that concert called Set us Free, that puts to music, the words of the Reverend Timothy McDonald that moved you so much. It’s interesting, there's a song that I wrote after, coming back from Barack Obama's inauguration. We were on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Lincoln, obviously, and King, with I Have a Dream, and then Obama all had a presence. So, the lyrics of that song all came from their words. I really loved the idea of adapting. and your song, Set Us Free is beautifully adapted. It's such clear wisdom, that we could all pay more attention to these days.

Could you talk a little bit about that song?


After he passed, they had, celebrations of his life. on his birthday. We celebrate his birthday on his real birthday, January 15, not just on the, the Monday holiday. But, on his 80th birthday, I was really honored to be invited to sing at his birthday celebration.

And, Reverend Timothy MacDonald, if you go to any action for social change here in Atlanta, he will be there and he will move your spirit. But in addition to being an amazing speaker and social activist, community activist, he's also a fabulous singer as is his wife and together, they sound like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. They're like…


[00:48:24] EW: So anyway, he was a speaker. I was with Murphy Davis and Ed Loring from the Open Door Community. And I said, “That's gotta be a song.” He said, (Rev. McDonald) “We Cannot lie our way to the truth. We cannot spend our way out of debt. We cannot war our way to peace.”


[00:48:41] EW: Yeah, what else do we need to say? That's it.


[00:48:44] EW: Recently. my friend, Lisa from Cuba, who is here in Atlanta now, she has translated it into Spanish. And if you saw the video of the concert, we weave in and out between the Spanish and English. And, I love doing that, letting the languages dance together. So, she did a beautiful translation of it and we sing it in three-part harmony with her sister Judith. And, yeah, it's a song that's had quite a good life.

To bring us back around to the beginning of this. the three of us were on the daily antidote of song and sang it there. And, yeah, I think it's, I think it's a great way to finish.

BC: The way it starts out from the close harmonies of the beginning of the song to this incredible celebratory festival feeling of all these different music’s and all these different people and all these different instruments on stage

EW: Back around to the idea of collaboration at the end of


[00:49:42] EW: that song I invited all the musicians. So, the idea of the concert was, again, Jessica, my wonderful friend, who has so many great ideas, the video, she said, why don't you invite other people to do your songs, to celebrate this songbook? And I didn't, I did sing harmony on a few things, but basically, I got to hear how my songs traveled with other folks.

And so, at the end of the concert, there were about 40 musicians there. Everybody came up on stage and sang and played and danced to the set us free song. and that's how we finished. And that was also, the last main, really one of the last concerts I got to do before the pandemic that I'm Happy that we got to do that concert.

¿Por qué mentir para buscar la verdad?

¿Por qué mentir para buscar la verdad?

Elmundo gira y girará

¿Por que mentir para buscar las verdad?

Mentir nos destruye, Amén

Mentir nos destruye, Amén

Mentir nos destruye, Amén

Mas la verdad nos liberará

We cannot lie our way to the truth

We cannot lie our way to the truth

We spin and spin the earth around

We cannot lie our way to the truth

Lying will destroy us, Amen

Lying will Destroy us, Amen

Lying will destroy us, Aman

And truth will set us free

I'm happy too, and actually captured it so other people can experience it. It’s similar to the daily antidote. Watching something like that reminds you that human connection is really important and doing it in an active and beautiful way is. It's the best of the best.

So, Elise you and I could be talking for forever, but I really want to thank you, for, spending the time sharing your stories and music.


[00:52:02] BC: you're welcome call and response. That's the way.


[00:52:08] BC: Thank you.

And thank you to our listeners out there across the U. S., and UK, and India, Singapore, Canada, Cambodia, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Serbia, and South Africa, and the rest of the world with your big years, your big hearts, and your thoughtful comments. This show is a labor of love, and we love that you're out there listening and hopefully learning and being inspired.

And speaking of learning for those of you who are teaching, or doing research, or just trying to absorb as much as you can about art and community change, we want to remind you about our new Change, the Story Collection. This collection is our response to listeners who told us, they'd like to dig deeper into art and change episodes that focus on specific issues, constituencies, or disciplines like justice arts, cultural organizing, change theater, children and youth, or music. If this interests you, please check it out at under the podcast drop-down or, click the link in our show notes.

Change the story Change the World is a production of the Center for the Study of Art and Community. It's written and hosted by me, Bill Cleveland, and our theme and soundscape are by the stupendous Judy Munson, our editing is by Andre Nnebe, our special effects come from and our inspiration rises up from the mysterious, but ever present, presence of UKE 235. Until next time, please. Stay well, do good, and spread the good word.

Cantar no liberará

Bailar nos liberará

La Justicia nos liberará

El amor no liberará



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